Study to see whether robotic cats can benefit people with dementia

Glyndwr University have joined forces with Hasbro to conduct research into whether robotic cats can benefit people with dementia (Daily Post, 2017).

The robotic cats were initially built and sold by Hasbro as toys, until the company began to explore the benefits they could make to the healthcare sector.

Dr Joanne Pike, a senior lecturer in nursing, and computing lecturer Professor Rich Picking plan to give ten “robocats” to people living at home or in sheltered accommodation in North East Wales. Over a six month period the team will visit the study participants to see how they’re getting on with their new pets.

For people who can’t look after a real pet, the robotic cats are a viable alternative that can last forever and don’t need feeding and cleaning. They even have sensors that respond to petting and hugs.

Joanne Pike’s mother, who passed away last month aged ninety four, had Alzheimer’s. She also had a robotic cat. Joanne Pike said “I remember how mum would brighten up and her eyes sparkle when she talked to it. She loved cats as we used to have them when she was younger, so she was familiar with them. The robotic companion had an identity, it reminded her of the past and made her smile. Towards her later days, even if she didn’t talk to us she would be talking to the cat and stroking it. Mum felt comfort in that, it made her come alive. We know that pets can have a big impact on therapy and a positive effect on the health and wellbeing of an individual. These robotic companion pets are not a substitute but they are great company, particularly for someone elderly or living with dementia.”

Rich Picking said the study of robotic companion pets, which he described as “companotics” could have a major say on future development of the product and research into the illness. He said “Ideally we want people living at home with dementia – or their families and carers – to get in touch if they’ve maybe had a cat in the past and can no longer look after one, or would like some company. We will come along and introduce them to their new friend in their own surroundings, then come back after a few weeks, and then months to see how they’ve got on. Whether they’ve formed a bond, whether it’s made a difference. Of course they can keep the cat, we would not take it back from them. We would like to see what the level of interaction was, and then see how it can be developed further for research and health purposes.”

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